THE LA TIMES
WORLD FAMOUS ASTRONOMER GOES MISSING
Staff Writer March 25th, 2185
Pasedena was rocked by the news yesterday that world-famous astronomer and CalTech professor Isaac Soye had disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Dr. Soye, most well known for his discoveries of new solar systems in our galaxy, was last seen leaving his office and heading towards the Beckman Lawn. An eyewitness said they saw a flash of light before they were flung backward into a wall and passed out.
“It was blindingly bright,” the eyewitness, who asked not to be named, said, “I still have trouble seeing properly.”
Colleagues have said it is most unlike Dr. Soye to disappear without notice. “He’s been very busy recently so most of us assumed it was work related when he left, but we haven’t seen him since he left the office yesterday,” Dr. Gray of the Astrophysics Department said.
If anyone has any information about Dr. Soye’s disappearance or whereabouts, please contact CalTech at 626-852-1402.
DIARY OF ASTRONAUT WAYNE RODGERS
APRIL 4, 2235
I was on my regular midnight stroll through the park tonight, walking right past that large tree by the one-way sign, when I saw it–an anomaly in the sky. It has a green glow around the edges. From where I was standing it looked small, but it must actually be quite big. Maybe huge. It’s probably just a weather balloon, right? I mean, what else could it be? A UFO?
I’m going to check on it in the morning.
APRIL 16, 2235
The anomaly is visible both during the day and at night. During the day, it looks like someone took a paintbrush and used it to dab a blob of ink between the clouds. I’m sure my old colleagues at NASA will give it a more scientific name, but for now, I’m calling it my ‘ink blob’.
I’ve been watching my ink blob in the sky for twelve days through my telescope, and I think it’s getting bigger. I need to tell someone in the old office about this. Maybe Diana.
MAY 9, 2235
Had a meeting with Diana today and gave her the coordinates for the location of the anomaly. They’re going to start looking into it. This feels just like the old days when I worked as an astronaut. If only I could go back in time and do those things again.
I don’t know if I’m going crazy from staring at it too much, but it seems like it’s getting bigger.
AUGUST 16, 2235
I can’t believe how slowly things move at NASA. I’ve been watching that darn blob for five months, but when I spoke to Diana today, all she said was, “We’re looking into it, Wayne. You know these things take time.”
Meanwhile, this thing is getting bigger by the day. Cosmo barked at it this morning! If Diana can’t get anywhere with it, then I need to try and find someone else who can help.
JANUARY 3, 2236
I’ve been obsessing over that blob for nine months. Still nothing from NASA on what it is, or what we’re going to do about it. What am I doing? Why am I just waiting and not taking action? Maybe I need to move on and focus on other things. I’ve lost almost a whole year to this anomaly/ink blob. I was supposed to be creating models of stuff like lightsabers and planets, but now I’m caught up with this!
FEBRUARY 2, 2236
I sent a message to Diana today to ask her what the status was. I can’t believe there’s been no change since I told her about it. I’m a trained astronaut–I know when I see something worth investigating, but I don’t have enough resources to do it on my own.
FEBRUARY 4, 2236
Got a call from Diana’s boss this morning and was summoned to a meeting. They confirmed that it’s something out of the ordinary and they’ve got a team of analysts looking at it.
I’m just so happy that I’m right. I’ve spent less time with my family while doing all of this. I’m trying to get closer to my kids again, and have some more time with my wife.
MARCH 20, 2236
They announced that there will be a team of astronauts investigating the anomaly. I’ve already volunteered. I’m hoping they will let me investigate this thing properly since I was the one who reported the sighting in the first place. The mission will start on April 4th, which is auspicious as it’s the anniversary of the day I first saw the anomaly. My ink blob.
APRIL 3, 2236
The expedition begins at midnight. I’m so excited! The two years I spent on that ink blob wasn’t for nothing. I try to remember that Thomas Edison devoted his entire life to the light bulb! Meanwhile, I only spent two years looking at an anomaly in the sky, so I’m lucky that I’ve still got a long life left and a wonderful family.
Wayne would lead the expedition with a crew of astronaut specialists: Hayley Henderson—an engineer, Steve Curry—a data scientist, Rachel Byne—an astrobiologist; and Andrew Cane—a doctor.
The anomaly was right on the border between America and Canada, so the group flew to Nighthawk, Washington. Wayne joined them there, driving a few miles northwest of Oroville. From Nighthawk they’d have to get to the edge of the stratosphere, easily reached with modern jetpacks. As an astronaut, Wayne had earned a name for himself on the first Mars expedition for being calm, level-headed, analytical, and an outstanding leader. Since he was also the person who first discovered the anomaly, Wayne was made the expedition leader. He readied his team. Then it began.
When they set out to the anomaly’s supposed location near Nighthawk, Andrew, the doctor, and least experienced astronaut, spoke up.
“Are we sure that we’ll be able to get back safely?”
“It’ll be fine Andrew. Right, Hayley?” Wayne said, assuring Andrew while patting him on the back.
“Yes, I’m pumped! It’ll be awesome! And remember, we’ve been planning this for months, including every possible scenario we might get ourselves into,” Hayley said. An experienced astronaut, she was always excited for every mission, but especially this one, as the anomaly seemed like something straight out of a science fiction movie.
“Prepare your jetpacks,” Wayne instructed the team. With their boosters enabled, they started toward the edge of the stratosphere.
As they got closer to the edge, the green outline of the anomaly became more clear, visibly coming from the inside of the hole.
“I’ve got eyes on the target,” Wayne said. “Everyone, please confirm.” They each gave him a thumbs up, and they proceeded towards the anomaly in a V-formation, with Wayne leading the way.
As they moved in closer, the anomaly looked like a tunnel and a green grid-like design appeared on its interior walls. The anomaly seemed to be some sort of passage through space… an opening. Then, for the first time, they could glimpse what was beyond. It was vast. And magnificent. A carpet of stars stretched as far as the eye could see. Shooting stars—hundreds of them—leaving pink trails behind that glowed like jellyfish in the deep sea. The group of seasoned astronauts, scientists, and astrophysicists fell silent in awe.
Amidst the beauty, and against the backdrop of a giant nebula, they could just make out what looked like an Earth-like sphere.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Hayley muttered under her breath, spellbound by the sight. She hoped the microphone in her helmet hadn’t picked up what she said.
“I think we could be looking at another planet,” Rachel said calmly to the others.
“Only one way to find out,” Wayne replied. “Team, we’re going to move in closer.” He gestured for them to do final safety checks on their protective gear and they zoomed into the vortex. As soon as they got close to the hole they felt a strong force pulling them. Hurtling through black space with hundreds of beams of light, they were disorientated and lost control.
Hayley woke up first. She felt nauseated, but sat up and looked around. The other members of the team were scattered close by, and the monitor on her wrist indicated that their vital signs were still good. They were alive.
With that out of the way, she tried to figure out where they were. They seemed to be in a desert, and it was night time. She looked up at the sky and could just about see a faint green outline that was reminiscent of the hole in the sky they had seen from Earth.
The others started to wake up.
“I think we’re on the planet-like object we saw before we entered the hole,” Hayley announced. She pointed at the green outline in the sky. She sounded calm and authoritative, but inside she was practically jumping up and down.
“We should check for other life forms, see if we can get help,” she continued.
“I think there’s a pretty low chance of that, Hayley,” Steve said dismissively, “this isn’t science fiction.”
“Well how would you explain the anomaly up there, and the planet-like shape we saw in the hole?” Hayley retorted. “We both went through the same training and selection program, Steve.”
“Hayley could be right, Steven,” Wayne said. “The chance of there being alien life is low, but we won’t know unless we look. And the point of this mission is to explore and investigate.” Hayley was smart, and he trusted his colleague’s instincts.
“Sure thing, Rodgers. But I’m telling you now, there is no way there are other forms of life here. Earth has life because it’s in the Goldilocks zone. There is nothing to suggest that this planet has any of the building blocks needed to support life. Honestly, I thought you were smarter than that.” Steve said smugly.
“Maybe you’re right, Steven Walter. But so far, the temperature seems to be suitable for life, not too hot and not too cold—a classic Goldilocks zone. My Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics tells me that we could have a shot at finding alien life.” This angered Steve, not because he thought Wayne seemed a bit like a know-it-all, but simply because he hated when people called him by his middle name, or full name: Steven Walter Curry. Wayne knew this, it was intentional, and Steve wasn’t going to take the bait.
“Okay then, I’ll just try and flag down someone to help us, shall I?” Steven Walter sneered, as he stood up and started waving his arms, as if calling for help. He turned to say something but stopped.
In the distance, a silhouette of a figure riding on some sort of buffalo-like creature was coming towards them.
As it came closer, Hayley gasped. “Is that…a human?”
“It’s more likely to be a humanoid,” Wayne said, after a brief silence.
“But either way, it’s alien life, right?” Hayley replied, with a pointed look at Steve.
There was no time to argue. The humanoid had pulled up close to them.
“Who are you strangers?” They appeared to be female, in their mid-60s. Her dark gray hair had a few streaks of black in it, and she had it tied up in a bun.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Wayne Rodgers, this is Rachel Byne, Hayley Henderson, Steve Curry and Andrew Cane.”
“We’re here on an expedition from Earth,” Hayley added.
“FROM Earth? For all we know, we’re back ON EARTH!” Steve snapped at her.
“REALLY?” Hayley said, infuriated. “Then what’s THAT?” she pointed at a tiny sphere in the sky that looked a lot like Earth. Wayne gestured for both of them to be quiet before Steve could respond.
“From Earth, you say? We’ve had a visitor from Earth before - Isaac Soye. But that was a long, long time ago,” the humanoid said.
“Did you say, Dr Isaac Soye was here?” Wayne asked in amazement.
“Yes, that’s right, he was here.”
The team was speechless. But not for long.
“So…where are we?” Steve asked.
“The Canyf desert of our planet: Ovlam,” the stranger replied.
Everyone looked at Steve and he gulped. The stranger seemed unfazed.
“Sorry, I realize I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Dyss Bun. Everyone calls me Bunny.”
“Could you help us find shelter? Or a place we could stay so we could get some rest?” Hayley asked. “We traveled quite a distance to get here.”
“My husband and I would gladly take you in. We’re farmers. Oh, and this is my Kog: Pekka,” Bunny said with a grin, pointing at the buffalo-like creature. “It’s a bit of a walk; I hope you don’t mind.”
It took about two hours for them to walk to the farm. Bunny stayed with the group while riding on her Kog. Steve was surprised that the buffalo thing wasn’t a hybrid buffalo/boar and kept asking Bunny questions about it.
Bunny’s farm was not too small, and not too big (as Goldilocks would say), with several fields of crops and a paddock with some animals. The farm house looked old and in need of repair. A tall man wearing a dark brown leather hat, and rubber boots strode out to meet them.
“This is my husband, Ganto Bun,” Bunny said with a smile. “Ganto, these kids are Wayne Rodgers, Steve Curry, Hayley Henderson, Andrew Cane and Rachel Byne. They say they’ve come here from Earth.”
“You mean Erth like the city in Deep Kohlo, or are we talking about somewhere else?” Ganto Bun scratched his head.
“No, Earth, as in the planet we’re from,” Andrew said gently. “It’s a planet covered in blue water with green in the middle and white at the top and bottom. I guess that’s how you’d describe it.”
“You know, like where Isaac Soye came from,” Bunny nudged Ganto with her elbow. Turning to the group, she pointed at the sky. “So you mean that planet up there?” Isaac Soye called it Earth too, but we’ve always called it Avaris.”
“Avaris. I like that name!” Rachel piped up.
“That’s great. I’m hungry. What is there to eat here?” Steve said rudely.
“Ah, I’m glad you asked. We have Gonto slugs, cooked in the fire. Puoqi beans, a savory food made by mashing Puoqi seeds together and eaten like rice. We have pasta, a delicacy made by-” Ganto Bun was interrupted.
“I don’t need the whole menu, I just need to eat,” Steve snapped. There was a shocked silence.
“I apologize for Steve’s behavior,” Wayne said. “We’re still recovering from our journey.”
The team went inside the couple’s house and were pleasantly surprised by how delicious the food was; the juicy Gonto slugs went perfectly with the Puoqi beans.
“You know, I learned a technique from him where you put rice inside the Puoqi beans after cracking it to stick it together and add a good taste!” Bunny said, smiling at Ganto.
“It really is good! I love it, and you guys are such good cooks!” Wayne said, showing the others the rice inside of the Puoqi bean he cracked in half as an experiment.
“Aw, don’t be silly. We just follow our cookbook!” Ganto said, chuckling.
“Well I need that cookbook then!” Wayne said as everyone laughed.
Soon, Steve’s outburst was forgotten and Wayne asked Bunny and Ganto if they wouldn’t mind letting them poke around a bit for research purposes.
“What’s really remarkable is that the conditions for life here are very similar to those on Earth,” Rachel marveled. “You have oxygen, water, and at least where we are, the temperature is suitable for human life.”
“See, now that we’re here, we’d like to gather as much information about your planet as possible, so that our people on Earth might learn from it,” Wayne explained.
“Oh sure,” Ganto said, “Just don’t kill the plants!”
Rachel wasted no time in getting to the crops. She took samples of the soil, and with permission from Ganto, picked one or two plants to take back to Earth. Meanwhile, Andrew examined Bunny and Ganto, and the animals too.
“They have the same number of teeth as us and everything!” he exclaimed.
Some time passed and they realized they hadn’t seen Rachel in a while. Andrew volunteered to go and find her.
“Where is the closest town or city? We’d love to go there,” Wayne said.
“Cristola is about an hour from here.” Ganto pointed north. “Bunny or I can take you there.”
“Wow, you’ve got some really interesting plants out here! I’ve never seen a rainforest border a desert before,” Rachel said with a broad smile.
“If you’re here…then where’s Andrew?” Hayley asked. “He went out looking for you.”
Rachel looked confused. “I-I haven’t seen him.”
“He went that way,” Hayley said. “Into the rainforest.”
“Oh dear,” Bunny jumped into the conversation. “The rainforest can be very dangerous, as the Canyf Dragon Anacondas lurk in that area. They can wrap around two palm trees at once!” Bunny's tone deepened. “And their venomous bite is lethal.”
“Oh no… We’ve got to do something!” Steve stood in the doorway of the cottage, ready to disappear into the unknown of the cold desert night.
“You’re right, Steve. We need to help him,” Wayne said.
“Well if you’re going, we’re going too. We used to do this a lot back in the day,” Ganto Bun said as he grabbed a shotgun from under the decorated bark dining table.
The rainforest was wet, dark and filled with insectoids.
“Ugh!” Steve looked disgusted as he brushed one off his shoulder.
They stopped when they heard a loud crack. Ganto prepared his weapon and was about to shoot when they saw a man with dark, curly hair coming through the foliage.
“Hey, what’s going on here? Who are you?” the man said. “Wait…Ganto?”
“It’s been a long time, old friend!” Ganto said with a big smile. “I didn’t know you were in the area!”
The man grinned back at him. “I’ve been looking for a new species of bird. I heard rumors of a six-eyed toucan being spotted around here and wanted to see for myself.”
“Our friend might be tangled in a situation with a Canyf Dragon Anaconda.” Wayne explained. “Can you help us?”
“I can try,” the man replied. “I have a weapon. Where are you from?”
“I’m Wayne, and we’re from Earth.”
“Been a long time since I’ve heard about Earth. A long, long time.” The man smiled as he took out his dagger of choice. “Let’s hunt some Canyf Dragon Anacondas.” He walked off at a moderate speed as the twigs below his shoe soles snapped.
The rest of the team went after him, wondering what would happen next.
It wasn’t until sunrise until they finally came across a very tired-looking Andrew.
“Hey guys,” he panted.
“Where have you been?” Rachel asked.
“Looking for you! What, did you think I would just leave a teammate behind?” Andrew said, surprised.
Suddenly, the trees in the rainforest rustled, and a huge snake jumped off a tree with their tongue stretching out.
“Uh oh,” Andrew gulped as the huge creature hissed loudly at the group.
“And that’s a Canyf Dragon Anaconda,” the curly-haired man said, staring intently at the snake.
Sunlight danced on the eyes of the beast. Its scales were as sharp as the blades of a sword and its tail made the sound of a rattlesnake. It would be a terror to fight or tame, but was a beautiful sight nonetheless.
Purple liquid splashed on its tongue as it surged towards the group. Most of them jumped sideways to dodge the large head of the snake; Wayne, however, leapt over the eyeline of the creature and then landed on the top of its head.
The trees behind them shook as if they were in a hurricane as the snake hissed in irritation, which started a chain reaction of roars and screams deep in the jungle behind them.
Wayne held onto the sharp yellow brows of the creature as the snake started to shake its head to get the human off them.
“This is your chance! Get it while it’s distracted!” Wayne shouted. The force of the air of the hisses from the anaconda was so great it pushed his hair back.
“I’ve got its chest in my sights!” Ganto shouted. “Isaac, you try to tear into the skin so the bullet from my shotgun will go through its flesh!”
Ganto pointed at the creature’s heart and the man started tearing the scales off to expose the area. Wayne had to use all his strength and energy to keep the Anaconda distracted from going at his friends.
The rest of the group were awestruck. As the intensity of the fight increased they started trying to help by getting hold of the tail to stop it whipping around.
Ganto aimed his gun at the flesh of the giant snake, checked his gun was ready and then BANG!
Blood trailed into the sand as the Anaconda’s eyes went blank. The body of the creature collapsed to the ground and they all gasped. And then they cheered with relief as Wayne helped himself down to the stained sand below him.
“Well that was quite intense!” Wayne said with a wry smile, exhausted. “What a day!”
“Good job, man. Your first Dragon Anaconda ever,” Ganto Bun and Wayne Rodgers shook hands. “Let’s go back to our humble abode to recharge.” Ganto smiled proudly as they returned to the farmhouse.
As they all recovered back at the farmhouse, Wayne looked at the curly-haired man with interest.
“Did I hear Ganto call you Isaac?”
“Me? Yes, I’m Isaac.”
“Soye.” Wayne finished Isaac’s introduction. “Pleasure to meet you, Professor Soye.”
Isaac looked amused. “How did you know it was me?”
“You look exactly the same as you did when you disappeared 50 years ago. I’ve always wondered what happened to you. How did you get here, and how is it that you look exactly the same?”
“I will start with your first question. When you get older, you’ll learn that some mysteries are best left unsolved. And it must be fun hearing all the theories about what actually happened.” Isaac smiled.
“I prefer my mysteries solved, but in the meantime, can you tell me how you look exactly the same? It’s like you haven’t aged at all.”
Isaac leaned in closer and in a conspiratorial tone said, “Come outside with me.” Wayne followed him as he walked out into the fields.
Isaac came to a stop once they were out of earshot and looked up at the sky.
“In this world, you live longer than you do on Earth. They live for hundreds of years here. All life forms. Bunny and Ganto look like they’re 60, but they’re actually 250 years old. You can be 100 and not have a single wrinkle.” Isaac explained. “How old are you, Wayne?”
“On Earth, you’re almost at the halfway point of the average lifespan. But if you stayed here, you could live for hundreds of years. You could live several lifetimes.” Isaac looked at Wayne to see his reaction.
Wayne took a moment to digest this information.
“So that’s why you haven’t gone back?” Wayne asked.
Isaac smiled. “Someone like me…I live for research and learning. To have hundreds of years to be able to do that is a dream come true. What’s your passion? What drives you?”
“There was a time where I would have followed the same path as you,” Wayne replied. “I have always loved everything about space and the unknown. The anomaly that led us here has consumed my life for the past two years. But I have a family. I have to get back.”
“I see.” Isaac scratched his chin. “When I first got here, I built a space capsule to go back to Earth. You and your crew are welcome to use it.”
“We would be so grateful for that,” Wayne said with obvious relief.
“But I wouldn’t wait too long to start your journey back.” Isaac warned. “The bigger that hole gets, the more unstable it is and the greater the chance it will collapse. I’ve seen it happen before.”
“Then I need to speak to my crew now.”
Wayne relayed what Isaac told him back to the team.
“We can get back. When Isaac first arrived, he built a space capsule that could take him back to Earth.” Wayne could see the crew were surprised but excited by this news.
“And this means we can take our research back too,” Hayley added.
“But we’ve barely been able to scratch the surface of how things work here, or how life works here,” Rachel protested.
“Isaac must have decades of research that he could share with us to take back. Don’t you, Isaac?” Hayley was now looking at the Professor.
“I do. I don’t want to be a party pooper, but there’s one problem with that,” Isaac said quietly. “It’s too much data for you to be able to take back, even in digital form. And it would take too long to process. You don’t have that kind of time. If you want the research, one of you will have to stay behind to broadcast to Earth from here.”
There was a long silence as the group contemplated what this meant.
“I could stay behind,” a man emerged from the darkness.
“Steve?” Wayne said, confused.
“What? What’s in it for you though?” Hayley was confused. Ever since the beginning of the mission, she had thought of Steve to be a very selfish person who always thought he was right.
“I have a good life back on Earth. But I’ve lived a selfish life, and in many ways it’s been a lonely one. You all have families to go back to. Plus, hundreds of years of research? On a new planet? I’ve devoted decades of my life to space and I haven’t gotten tired of it, so I bet hundreds of years wouldn’t be a problem either.” Steve’s black hair shone in the sunlight and the reflection of the sun shimmered in his hazel eyes. He smiled, and glanced at his team members. “In a way, this is a selfish decision too. I get to stay, live longer and discover a new planet while you all go back.”
The rest of the team stayed quiet. Andrew came up to him and they shook hands.
“I’m proud of you. I never thought you would make a sacrifice as big as this for the team.”
“It’s not just for the team; it’s for mankind,” Hayley said with tears in her eyes.
“For mankind.” Steve turned to speak to the whole team. “My acts earlier in the mission were selfish and unreasonable. I thought that I was right, and didn’t admit when I was wrong. I hope that you can all go back to Earth remembering me differently to how I was at the start of this mission.”
“I approve your request to stay,” Wayne said, putting his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Let’s get the team back home.”
Isaac showed the astronauts the way to the capsule, which appeared on the horizon. They stopped, then sprinted, and then dashed to the space capsule. Rust coated half of the surface of the transport.
“Sorry if it’s tricky to get working, it’s been decades since I made it. Although the life forms on this planet survive for hundreds of years, space rockets don’t!” Wayne reached out to high-five Isaac, as he thought it was funny and he thought the rocket was cool.
After approximately five hours of figuring out the old system of “pressing the big red button gives you instructions”, they were ready for blast-off.
“I hope we’ll see you again,” Wayne said to Steve. “The hole may not collapse.” Everyone hugged.
“You never know,” Steve smiled and shrugged. “Even if there is a way home, I may want to stay here.”
“5!4!3!2!1! BLAST OFF!”
Crimson flames blasted out of the bottom of the space rocket as fireworks blasted into the distance. Tears streamed from their eyes as their last moments on Ovlam evaporated, and a deep blackness covered the cities, towns and landmarks of the beautiful planet they were just on.
Smiles wiped the tears off of their faces as their rocket neared Earth.
“We’re almost home!” Hayley cried, with a grin that touched her ears. The rocket crashed through the atmosphere of the beautiful planet they called home.
“We’re home everyone! We’re HOME!” They cheered as Wayne made a safe landing on a helipad near Nighthawk, Washington.
“Home sweet home,” Wayne said, as he wept. “Where we belong.”
Wayne’s wife saw the rocket landing, and knew immediately, in her heart, that it was Wayne. She ran as fast as she could, and when the team emerged from the space vehicle, they hugged.
DIARY OF RETIRED ASTRONAUT WAYNE RODGERS
APRIL 6, 2236
I got back today. I was so happy to see my family again, and for the others to be reunited with their families.
I hope Steve is ok.
APRIL 10, 2236
Took the kids to the lake today and we had a great time out on the water.
I couldn’t help but notice that the anomaly has grown.
JANUARY 29, 2237
The anomaly has collapsed. It had been growing at an exponential rate so this is just as Isaac predicted. The kids are going to miss seeing its glow.
I wonder where Steve is. Did he start the transmission before the collapse?
FEBRUARY 14, 2237
The kids told me that I’m living here on Earth with them, but my mind is always in space. I’ve been trying to focus on my family, but it’s been more difficult than I expected. I’ve been distracted.
Now that the anomaly has disappeared, I want to be the father they need. My mind and heart belong here, on Earth.
SEPTEMBER 9, 2238
I woke up to a message from Hayley that NASA received an encrypted radio signal which she tracked back to the location of where the hole used to be. Could it be Steve?